How to prepare your kids for the clocks going back

21st October 2019

Words by Marta Neto // Photography by Anna Whitaker

Spoiler alert: the clocks go back this weekend. So whether you’ve been struggling with your kids sleep lately or not, chances are they’ll want to wake up an hour earlier now at the very least. And because their new bedtime is soon to be an hour later than what they’re used to, it’s going to be an exhausting time for everyone involved.

Thankfully we’ve called in our knight of shining bedtimes, Marta Neto: The Gentle Sleep Consultant. She came to our rescue this summer when we were at breaking point with our three-year-old and is a fountain of knowledge on all things baby sleep. So today, she’s sharing her wisdom in the shape of this little Q&A, which should line all of us up for a calm and easy transition through the clock change.

Hi Marta! As we’re all now aware, the clocks go back this weekend, meaning all our hard work of getting the kids to sleep this summer may be about to go out the window. What can we do ahead of time to prepare?

Hello! And thankfully, yes – there’s loads you can do. If I’m totally honest though, I’ve always been in two minds about this. With my own three children, I never prepared anything. I helped them afterwards if necessary, knowing we were in for a few hard days but I was ok with that. Probably because as a parent of three sleep resistant children, my motto has always been embrace what you cannot change!

Professionally, I’ve successfully supported lots of parents through the clock change and I’d love to share my strategies with ToyDrop readers. Here we go:

Firstly, it’s all about the prep, my friends. Here’s my handy schedule:

Bedtimes:

  • Tuesday 17th – Saturday 19th, keep your child up for an additional 15mins
  • Sunday 20th – Tuesday 22nd, keep your child up for another additional 15mins
  • Wednesday 23rd – Friday 25th, add another 15mins
  • Saturday 26th – add the last 15mins and hey presto your child is now on the new schedule. Phew!

Mornings:

Delay what you define as morning (e.g. 6am) by 15mins just as described above. You can do this by keeping your child in the room until that time. If they become upset, stay with them, have a cuddle, read a calm book, sing a song, this can be a lovely start to the day. At your chosen wake up time (keep it real!), open the blinds and start your day.

During the day:

Remember to adjust naps and all feeds.

Melatonin is your best friend! To achieve a good daily dose, make sure your child spends time outdoors when the sun is at its peak (12 pm).

How about pre-bed rituals, bedroom setups or specific pyjamas?

This is one of the most effective changes you can make. Not just when the clocks change, but whenever you need to address sleep issues. Being able to predict what will happen next helps children feel safe, and we all need to feel safe to fall asleep. There is nothing wrong with the classic: a warm bath, bedtime story, lullaby routine and you can adapt it to suit your family.

In our family, we teach the children the seasons throughout the year. The room décor varies slightly, we make seasonal art together and at bedtime, we change our bedtime stories accordingly. I have shared this with hundreds of parents throughout the years and the feedback has been great. I think it’s because, as parents, we become easily attached to routines even when they’re not working, or we become bored of them. Changing things up slightly can reinvigorate bedtimes and following the seasons can provide an excellent framework.

Autumn is all about hibernation, being cosy together as a family. So choose an Autumnal book, snuggle up and read it at bedtime. Bliss!

And what about temperature? Should we be heating their rooms through the night? Or just making sure they’re well covered? 

It’s important to make sure we adjust bedding and pyjamas. During Autumn, aim for: cool room, warm body. For older children, up to four years, consider using sleep bags with feet instead of a duvet. During the night, they may not be able to straighten the duvet and cover themselves again.

What happens if they start waking up at 5 or even 4am? How can we get them back to sleep when they’re ready and raring to go?

Follow the strategy above and hopefully the early wakes won’t last. But, it’s also important to understand that early wakes are normal. Sleeping past sunrise is a fairly modern concept that adults have fully embraced but babies have not.

When the clocks change, I suggest that parents go to sleep earlier to be able to stay consistent during the early wakes. The danger here is that parents become so tired that they revert back to feeding to sleep or bed-sharing which can quickly become the norm.

Here are a few more strategies to help:

  • Treat early wakes as any other night time wake
  • Make sure the room is as dark as it can be and if you use white noise/lullabies, keep it on all night
  • Make bedtime relaxing
  • Make sure your child’s schedule is working for them
If our little ones are tired in the day after not getting enough sleep at night, what would you suggest for different ages?

Great question! The underlying principle would be the same for all ages. If possible, try to stick to the nap schedule they’re already on. And, while they are awake, encourage quiet play. Use soft toys, read books, sing to them, add lots of physical and eye to eye contact. The aim is to keep their adrenaline levels low throughout the day so that bedtime runs smoothly. A smooth bedtime will help reduce night wakes.

Do you have any products that you’d recommend for a better night’s sleep through the winter?

Yes! I love Autumnal little owl’s Slumbersac with feet and my favourite book for the season is Woodland Sounds.

Finally, do you have any other tips for sleepy parents at this time of year?

Embrace Autumn! Our bodies ask as to slow down in this season, spend time at home, playing, bonding, resting, eating well. Whatever phase your child is in right now, it will pass. Until then, take care of yourselves.

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